The Pandora Papers: Unleashing the Veil of Civility
At a time when the national media was busy covering SRK’s son’s arrest over a rave party as their primary story, and the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre as the secondary story, something else took the world by shock. The Pandora Papers revealed the secret foreign trade and transactions of a host of illustrious personalities throughout the world.
Image Credits: Archyworldys
This is a big investigation done by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), with around 650 investigative journalists taking part globally. In this leak around 64 lakh documents, 30 lakh images, 10 lakh emails and a plethora of spreadsheets have been scrutinized. The leak revealed that almost 330 leaders from 90 countries internationally have hidden their properties under the guise of secret off-shore companies. Off-shore companies are often located in countries or territories with a lot of loopholes in their economic laws. Such places are commonly called “tax havens”. There are hundreds of tax havens throughout the globe, but the most prominent ones are the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Switzerland, Panama, Luxembourg, The Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and The Netherlands.
The ownership and funding details of these off-shore companies make a closely guarded secret. Most of these off-shore corporations are shell companies that exist only on paper. The primary intention of such companies is to hide and save taxes. These hidden taxes amount for trillions of dollars that could have been used by the governments for the betterment of humankind. Press has also done such unveilings in the past in the form of the Panorama Papers and the Panama Papers. But this time the investigation and the results are both massive as compared to their precedents. The Pandora Leaks also include several names from the cabinet and peers of Pakistani PM Mr Imran Khan Niyazi.
“Pandora Papers are the largest media collaboration that has ever been mounted with the help of ICIJ. There are a record number of 600 plus journalists working on this project from 150 countries and even some small territories have representation on this investigation. So we come back to such a large offshore investigation after the Panama Papers, but this time the number of service providers is also the largest and there are 14 of them. Like in the Panama Papers you had documents from Mossack Fonseca. This time there are 14 service providers and some of the largest are for example Alcogal, Asia City and Trident Trust.” - Ritu Sarin Executive Editor at The Indian Express.
“In Pandora, the documents reveal how the rich Indians and those in the corporate world set up trusts and private investment companies outside India and into tax havens such as BV Islands and Cayman Islands. A new trend that we see in Pandora Papers is that these influential families or corporates have got one of their family members who’s either become a foreign national or an NRI, and he is operating from there. He is doing his business from there, maybe in the Middle East or some other country. As these NRIs have set up the companies in most cases they have tried to delinked the Indian business with the foreign tax haven company that they have set up. So this is an additional layer of care that they have taken this time, which the documents reveal this time. They are taking to avoid compliance and domestic regulation.” - Sandeep Singh(Associate Editor- The Indian Express)
This is still an ongoing investigation, but it has revealed some high profile distinguished names till now and many more are awaited. On international front, the names that grabbed most attention are:
The Shah of Jordan- King Abdullah II- The investigation suggests that the advisors helped Shah to set up at least three dozen shell companies from 1995 to 2017. The Shah used them to buy about 14 homes worth more than 106 million dollars in the US and the UK. A report in The Guardian also suggests that Jordan appears to have blocked the ICIJ website on Sunday, hours before the Pandora Papers were launched.
The Prime Minister of Czech Republic- Andrej Babis - The leaks indicate that he used an offshore investment company to acquire a 22 million dollars chateau in the south of France.
The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev - The files show that the ruling Aliyev family of Azerbaijan has traded close to 400 million pounds of UK property.
Ex-british PM Tony Blair - He and his wife are not exactly accused of doing anything illegal but something unethical. They used a loophole in the laws to save 312,000 pounds in property taxes, when they purchased a London building partially owned by the family of a prominent Bahraini minister.
The list continues further to include the names of several presidents, prime ministers, prominent politicians, leaders, artists, sportspersons etc.
Let us now shed some light on the names from India in these files. The reports suggest that there are at least 300 Indians in the leaks. But, as of now, 60 prominent names have been unveiled. They include a range of people including bureaucrats, politicians, sportspersons, actors, businessmen, and the like.
Sachin Tendulkar - The surfacing of the name of a cricket legend, a former member of the Rajya Sabha and a ‘Bharat Ratna’ awardee, in the leak, came as an utter shock to the nation. Names of his family members, including his wife Anjali Tendulkar and father-in-law Anand Mehta have also been revealed. Sachin, along with some members of his family and several others, have been named as Beneficial Owners(BOs) of an offshore entity in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) which was liquidated in 2016. According to the investigation by the Panama based law-firm Alcogal, Sachin and others were BOs and directors of a BVI based company named ‘Saas International Limited’. For someone who holds the reputation of the Sachin Tendulkar, this act is utterly disappointing and shameful. Not only him, but also the name of ‘Bharat Ratna’, India’s highest civilian award is maligned with this accusation.
Anil Ambani - Anil is accused of setting up 18 offshore firms that have borrowed and invested 1.3 billion dollars.
Niira Radia - The Pandora Leaks suggest that the corporate lobbyist is the “no-contact client” of the Trident Trust Company, a corporate service provider firm in the British Virgin Islands. She has been conducting her offshore transactions through London based Sanjay Newatia, a former Credit Suisse banker.
Captain Satish Sharma - A former union minister, and the Gandhi family friend Captain Satish Sharma, who passed away in February this year had off-shore entities and properties abroad, shows the Pandora Papers.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw - The Executive Chairperson of Biocon Limited, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw along with her husband finds her name in the leak. Mrs Shaw’s husband John McCallum Marshall Shaw, is a British citizen and is owner of the Mauritius-based Glentec International. Glentec International also holds the shares of Biocon Ltd. In July 2015, Glentec International set up ‘The Deanstone Trust’ in New Zealand. A report by The Indian Express states that on July 8 this year, Kunal Ashok Kashyap was barred from trading in the stock market for a year by the Security and Exchange Board of India(SEBI). Kunal Ashok Kashyap is the man who was serving as the “protector” of The Deanstone Trust.
Jackie Shroff - On 29th of November, 2005, Claudia Dutt, mother-in-law of Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff, formed Media Trust, which is registered with the London Fiduciary Trust Company Limited(LFTC) in New Zealand. In 2013, Media Trust was terminated. Jackie was the prime beneficiary of this trust. Not only this, Jackie also made “significant contributions” to the trust. The trust had a Swiss bank account and also owned an offshore company ‘Millenstock Holdings Limited’ in the British Virgin Islands. According to the trust’s memorandum, Jackie’s son Jai Shroff(Tiger Shroff) and his daughter Krishna Shroff were other beneficiaries. The memorandum also states that Jackie wished “to be considered the primary beneficiary during his lifetime and his needs should be paramount.” Hundreds of thousands of people love Jackie for his acting and dialogue delivery. This leak presented to us the other side of the Bollywood ‘star’.
Image Credits: Wion
The list further continues to cover names of prominent Indians. It includes the names of former Indian Revenue Services officers, ex- Income Tax Chief Commissioner, real estate tycoons, politicians, etc.
Aryan is a second year student of English hons at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Aryan is currently serving at the position of Associate Editor and in-house writer at Hindu College Gazette. He also works with the People’s Archives of Rural India(PARI). He is a literature student with a great interest in the socio-politics of the country.